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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 1928

Senator MACKLIN(10.16) —Tonight we are debating a series of Bills-the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill 1987 and subsidiary Bills-one of which, as Senator Kilgariff has already mentioned, affects the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act and another which affects and requires changes to the Lands Acquisition Act. The main Bill that we are looking at tonight is the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill which, as other speakers have already pointed out, essentially prevents the exploration and mining of land proclaimed as the Kakadu National Park. This involves the mining interests which were there prior to proclamation. The legislation connected with this does not provide for any compensation to be payable by the Commonwealth as a result of the amendments made to this Act and other Acts.

The debate about the Kakadu National Park and mining is often put in a particular way. I think Senator Kilgariff put it clearly throughout his speech when he linked the words `mining' and `development'. That seeks to paint a picture which suggests that the only view of development in fact has to incorporate mining. It is interesting to note the changes in the economic structure of various countries, and I refer in particular to the fact that a little over two years ago the United States of America, as an example, moved to the point where tourism became its number one money earner, superseding all other industries. I think that is interesting because it shows in a very stark way the movement that has been going on in economic terms since the Second World War. Unfortunately not too many Australians seem to realise that Australia is very much in the forefront of that movement. It has moved away very rapidly in terms of employment from the agricultural based industries and manufacturing industry. It moved very rapidly in the early 1950s to having a majority of the population employed in the tertiary sector-that is, in the service sector. What is now known as the information sector, as a development of the services sector, is the fastest growing sector in the Australian economy in terms of employment.

I raise these elements because I believe that more and more of the debates about the use of our resources have to be put in that economic framework. It is not all or nothing. It is a debate about alternative economic scenarios which are available to us. Obviously, there can be a very wide range of disputes when it comes to these items. The reason for that is fairly obvious. We are looking at putting into place plans, the fruition of which we probably will not see, but of which our children will be inheritors. I suppose in this place we are constantly reminded, whether we like it or not, that the types of decisions we make will affect subsequent generations and will provide jobs and a stable economic environment if we get the thing right, or they could cause considerable damage. The difficulty is that when we look back from times of high unemployment it is often very difficult to pinpoint the decisions that were made which led to that unemployment and which were in the way of being critical. When looking at the information which was available to certain people in the 1950s and 1960s it is a bit hard to be critical although now, for example, we can see that many of the decisions made at that time subsequently led to structural operations within the Australian economy which were detrimental to employment and detrimental to development. I am not claiming in any way that the types of propositions we are debating in these Bills tonight are necessarily infallible. It is a matter of dispute, it is a matter of projecting forward, it is a matter of suggesting with all the available evidence that the way to go is down this avenue rather than down some other avenue. The opting here, I believe, is, in a very stark way, illustrated in these Bills.

Probably very few areas of Australia are as well known in the tourist sense as the Kakadu National Park. It is interesting that today there was an announcement made about an all-party delegation returning to Washington to discuss our agricultural products. I was a member of the all-party delegation last year. When there I took the opportunity on every occasion I had, when we were not discussing agriculture, to ask people why they would come to Australia as tourists. The previous year I was a member of a parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe and to the German Democratic Republic. There I took the same opportunity. Interestingly enough, the responses from Europe and the United States were identical. With everybody I asked the first reason given-not the only reason-was that they would want to visit one or other of our major natural attractions, whether it be the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu National Park, or Uluru National Park, more commonly known around the world as Ayers Rock. It was only after these attractions were mentioned that other elements came in. In other words, our attraction in a tourist sense is based very firmly in the minds of people around the world on our natural attractions. There is no doubt that it will remain so for quite a number of years. The reason for that is fairly obvious. The development of man-made tourist attractions such as the well known Disneyland involves massive capital investment, which we are not likely to have for a long period. It makes eminent economic sense to put whatever resources we have available for tourist development into those natural attractions.

Senator Jessop —In other words, not to mine but to leave it there to attract tourists. How many jobs would that provide?

Senator MACKLIN —Yes, as an attraction. Senator Jessop quietly raises the point about jobs. If I can use an illustration from another issue in my own State of Queensland which has been a very contentious one, the Shelburne Bay silicon mining, again an extraordinary area in terms of natural attraction. It is an extraordinarily important natural mineral resource. Again, that argument raged as to what was the economically desirable use. It was very interesting that all of the reliable studies showed that the number of jobs to be generated, the return to be generated, to the public purse was less than that which would be generated by putting a bus company in Cairns and driving people up there and back again. We often do not consider that tourism, unlike mining in terms of new mining techniques, is a massive labour intensive industry. It generates a far higher percentage of tertiary employment than does mining. It is an area in which Australia has already established itself well on the international scene. It is rather interesting to note that when I was asking people about these matters, one thing they did raise constantly was the fact that Australia was a stable political environment and that one could drink the water here. When one thinks of our massive natural attractions plus those added attractions there is probably nowhere else in the world that has those qualities, given that Kakadu has to present to us an alternative economic scenario to mining. How one deals with those two issues is, as I said at the beginning, a matter of weighing up where we are going, of knowing what type of development we need, of knowing what types of returns we can have.

Until now I have argued purely in the economic sense. The reason for that is that too often the argument put is in terms of conservation, in terms of the natural beauty against economics. I believe that to be a false dichotomy. It is the beauties of the natural environment, the preservation of the environment, and the economic values against other types of economic values. I refuse to be drawn into an either/or argument. It is not an either/or argument. We are now very clear about the economic role of tourism within our society and within our political structure.

The Northern Territory and the north of my State-I know the Northern Territory relatively well but obviously not as well as the north of my own State-have similar types of problems. The Northern Territory has an enormous land mass and a dispersed population. One has to ask: What type of development would best serve those communities? I reject the view that mining always has to be the one which best serves those communities. There are many other viable economic options now open to us and opening up to us which can provide a far better quality of life, a far better standard of living, and a far longer stable return to those citizens and to their children. It is in this type of framework that we ought to be discussing these issues and not in the rather simplistic notion of either mining or no development, as has been suggested by some speakers in this debate.